Introductory Articles

Written by the late Stanley George A'Bear (my father)

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The Origin of the A'Bear Name

The Village of Wargrave

Village Life in Early England

Wargrave A'Bears

Coat of Arms

The Delabere Connection








Many old English surnames derived from where a person lived or what he did. These include names of –

Occupations e.g. Smith, Butcher, Potter, etc.

Relationships e.g. John's son, Richard's son, etc.

Nicknames e.g. Small, Trotter, Lightfoot, etc.

Church Workers e.g. Abbott, Prior, Sexton, etc.

Locations e.g. Wood, Field, Hedges, etc.

Relationship names originated mainly as a result of Scandinavian influences and were originally found mainly in the north and east of England. Location names were probably the largest group of all for they included names of trees, hills, rivers, towns, and even directions such as Westerby. Most of these old location names originally had a prefix.Usually this was a preposition such as inne, atte (at the), offe, uppe, ethe (of the), or bithe. The most common of these prefixes was ATTE followed by the dative case of the noun. Between about l300 and 1400, with a growing population and people beginning to change their jobs and locations more frequently, surnames began to be abbreviated. In some cases the prefix was incorporated into thename itself such as Attwood or Attfield, while in others it was dropped completely and became just Wood or Field.

It has been said that the medieval English “ate their pigs and wore their sheep”. Most households in the early days kept at least a few swine, for pigs can forage for themselves yet they provide meat which can be salted and kept. In summer the pigs foraged in the woods and when winter came they were rounded up, identified by ear markings, and put into enclosures where food was ensured. These winter enclosures and summer foraging woods were often groves of oak or beech trees so that the pigs could feast on the acorns and beech mast and grow fat.

In old English, especially in the south, the word for such a grove of trees was BEARU and its dative form was BEARA or sometimes BAER. From this arose such place names as Beare Green near Dorking in Surrey, while in Devon, Dorset, and Somerset, there are 18 place names using Beare and 17 more with Beer or Beere, all from the same source.

In other parts of the country keepers of pigs were called by various names including Denn, Denny, Foreman, Forwood, Grice, Grisewood, Hogg, Hogarth, Hoggett, Styer, Stier, Swinard, Swinyard, Swain, or Woodward. In Hertfordshire the local dialect word for a house or living place was “an abeare", but its use in this respect appears to have been very limited and soon died out. In Southern England however a man who lived at a copse where pigs foraged would have been called ATTE BEARA or ATTE BAER.

There is no record of when this became A'BEAR or whether there were any intermediate names, but it probably happened some time between 1350 and 1400. Our own earliest recorded direct ancestor was JOHN ATTE BERE who, in 1340 was a Freeman and a Yeoman sheep farmer at Wargrave in Berkshire.

Other books of reference quote:

Nicholas Atte Bere from the Subsidy Rolls for Somerset in 1247

Robert Atte Beare who lived in Somerset in 1330

John Atte Bere from the Subsidy Rolls for Surrey in 1332

John Abere who died in Canterbury in 1517.

(Subsidy Rolls were typographical lists kept until the time of King Charles II of all persons assessed to pay a subsidy by virtue of their assets to either the Crown or the Church.)


Amongst the books of reference consulted within this text were:

The Origin of British Surnames by P H Reaney

A Dictionary of British Surnames by P H Reaney

English Ancestral Names by J R Dolan

Understanding English Surnames by Sir Wm Addison.

The following records have also been consulted:

History of Wargrave (1929) by E B Pope

Guide to St. Mary's Church Wargrave

Life in the Middle Ages by Jay Williams

Heraldic Design by Heather Child

Summaries of the Domesday Book (1086).

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Researched by Stanley G A' Bear

With the A'Bear families living and farming in Wargrave for over six hundred years, some mention of the village itself is appropriate. Wargrave was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Weregrave and the Manor was then held by Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor. The origin of the name is not known. It remained a royal demesne until 1189 when it was given by King Henry II to the Bishop of Winchester whose successors held it until 1551.

It lies just north of the London to Bath road some seven miles east of Reading. It is about three miles south of Henley and the area is bounded on the west by the River Thames. Until about 1200 the trees of the Great Windsor Forest stretched to the borders of Wargrave, but even at that time the trees were being cut for building ships and houses, and the area was becoming one of grassy hills and valleys on a spur of chalk downland from the Chiltern Hills. The nearby river ensured rich grass and good drainage, and the areas cleared were natural places for farming, especially sheep rearing.

Between 871 and 1006 the district was frequently raided by invading Danish marauders and they reached Reading in 1006 and destroyed it.

The first mention of a Church at Wargrave is in 1121 when an already established building was included in the endowments of Reading Abbey when it was founded by King Henry I. Iron age barrows and graves have been found locally and the Romans built a spur road off the London to Bath highway which went through Wargrave. See Map of Wargrave

In 1371 the Church was the scene of the consecration of John Bokyngham as Bishop of Lincoln by the Bishops of Winchester and Salisbury.This was an unusual honour for a local village church and community, and an occasion almost certainly attended by John atte Bere or his sons and their families.

The tower of the church was built in 1635 but on the night of 1 June l914 the church and its peal of six bells dated l668, l670, and l688 were destroyed by fire, only the tower and parts of the outside walls being spared. As soon as possible the work of rebuilding began and, in spite of the 1914 Great War, the new church was completed in July l916.

Today, Wargrave is a thriving village, expanded by new housing estates and well served by roads, railway, and the river. It is still a farming area, but not many remains of former houses and estates are now left. Modern maps show few of the places associated with the early days of the A'Bear families except Bear Place Farm, Bear Place, and Bear Grove, and such areas as Harehatch and Waltham St. Lawrence. The river at this point is of unusual beauty and variety and, in the summer, it is very busy with pleasure craft from nearby Henley.

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Researched by Stanley G A' Bear

With the A'Bear family already recorded as being yeoman sheep farmers in Wargrave by 1340, it is interesting to consider what life was like at that time. Unfortunately only a few odd details about the family exist to cover seven or eight generations and some 250 years before better records become available.


At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, Berkshire had a population of

Crown Land Tenants   80

Under tenants   185

Smaller landowners 1827

Cottagers 750

Servers and Villeins   3415

Others   67

A total of   6324

Following the Norman Conquest it was decreed that no one owned the land. The King held it on trust from God in exchange for wise rule. He in turn allowed nobles to hold the land in exchange for rent or services, and so on down the line in a form of social hierarchy.

By 1340 at Wargrave the Bishop of Winchester held the land on behalf of the Sovereign.Locally there would have been a Lord of the Manor. The Bishop would also have appointed a Parish Priest although he, like his parishioners, was only a working man with perhaps a little more education than some and able to read and write with some knowledge of Latin. The Priest held his own glebe lands, which he cultivated and accounted for in the same way as any other commoner. As a tithe he received one tenth of his parishioner's income to maintain his Church.

By this time the next in line were the Freemen. They had evolved from the land tenants, the land owners, and the larger cottagers. They were legally privileged men who owned their own land with the local Lord of the Manor's consent. A Freeman could, by this time, have sold his land if he wished or he could leave the Manor if he wanted to. He could contract marriage where he pleased and he could place his sons in the Church or in the Army if he so desired. These privileges he had won gradually over the previous 250 years and he considered himself superior to the serfs and villeins even though he lived in much the same sort of wood and thatch cottage, used the same sort of peat to heat it, wore much the same sort of rough home spun clothes, and ate much the same food as the serfs.

For these privileges in 1340 as a Freeman and Yeoman farmer, John Atte Bere would have paid perhaps seven shillings a year rent to the Bishop of Winchester plus perhaps ten hens at Christmas for the use and ownership of about ten acres of farm land, plus of course one tenth of his income to the Church.

However, by this time even the serfs were getting a better deal. Previously they had been bound to the Manor and literally possessed nothing. Their property was lent to them by the Lord of the Manor who could have sold them with the land if he wished or marry them to anyone he liked. But by 1340 the Lord of the Manor was learning that the serfs were working for his benefit and that, unless they were looked after, his revenues dropped, so even they were gaining concessions. One of these concessions was that a serf who ran away from his village and stayed away for a year and a day could keep his freedom. This resulted in a large number of wandering labourers only too glad to find a farmer to employ them for a mere pittance or a little food. In addition, during the hundred years between 1350 and 1450 the Black Death wiped out one third of the country's population and many people moved at that time to get better terms of employment or better accommodation. This also often created a local shortage of farm labourers.

Slowly the old customs were being pushed aside, and when John Atte Bere was farming at Wargave in 1340 a new class of yeoman farmer was growing up. They were independent and tough and they really did own their own lands as the Lords of the Manor began to sell their rights rather than try to enforce them. Even so it must be remembered that, at this time, Edward III was on the throne, the signing of the Magna Carta was only 125 years ago, the first Parliament was only formed 75 years ago, Chaucer would not write his Canterbury Tales for another 40 years, Caxton would not develop the printing press for another 140 years, and the long bow was only just succeeding the bow and arrow as the chief war weapon.

Conditions in the 14th century were further complicated by wars. The Hundred Years War extended on and off from 1338 to 1453 and even prior to that there had been campaigns against Scotland and Wales. Wars have to be paid for, and by 1381 the country's debts were immense.

To pay the debts Richard II instituted a Poll Tax and made a law which curbed some of the freedoms that serfs had obtained, forbidding them from leaving their lands to go elsewhere or from asking for higher wages than was customary in their district.

As a direct result of these impositions, Wat Tyler walked at the head of over 100,000 peasants to London in a protest march. They asked King Richard II to "free us forever, us and our lands, that we may never be named nor held for serfs”. The King promised reforms to get rid of the crowd but as they dispersed he said "Villeins you were and villeins you are". In bondage you shall abide and that not your old bondage but a worse”. Wat Tyler and several other leaders were arrested and killed but the serfs had made their point, although serfdom lasted in some form and in some places for another forty or fifty years before it finally died out in the reign of King HenryVI.

With poor roads and little communication most villages were self supporting for food, drink, and clothing, but already by 1340 some changes were becoming evident. Schools were few and far between but some Parish Priests supplemented their income by the teaching of reading, writing, and latin to local boys and men. Some of the larger towns had already started schools of learning while wealthy land owners were beginning to endow private schools. With Wargrave being two hours walk or an hour on horseback each way from Reading it is unlikely that many Wargrave children went there for their education. Most probably John Atte Bere could write only his name and that laboriously, but as he prospered this handicap would have become more evident and, no doubt, he paid the local Parish Priest to teach his children while he himself learned from them.

Life for a community dependent on farming such as existed in the 14th century at Wargrave would have revolved around the land and its crops with its ploughing, seed time, hay making, and harvest festivals. Farming of crops was on a three field system with one third fallow, one third cereals of wheat, rye, barley, or oats, and one third for pulse crops of peas or beans. The forests were gradually cleared as timber was needed for more and more ships and houses, and large tracts of grassland became empty. All villagers shared rights to Common Land but privately owned arable land was shared out and denoted by markers. Hedges for boundaries did not appear until after the Inclosure Acts came into force.

Long before the year 1200, sheep were being farmed and by 1340 when John was at Wargrave, sheep farming was not only extensive but extremely profitable. At that time England exported to Flemish countries alone some 80,000 sacks of wool and 8,000,000 fleeces a year, while as much again was being used in this country. These Berkshire sheep would have been a short wool breed still common on downlands, and each would have given 5 to 8 lbs. of wool when clipped and a carcase of 35 to 45 kilos. It is significant that at this time King Edward III (l327 to 1377) had a woolsack made to put in the House of Lords to remind Peers when they met that wool was England's staple industry.

But even in 1340 life was not all work. Local meetings often took place in the Church porch or at the local inn. Festivities hinged around the Saints Days and the Seasons. There would be Mummers Plays at Christmas, dances by the Green Man at Easter, the Maypole and Morris dancing in May, and much dancing and revelry when the harvest had been safely gathered in.

Then, too, there were the markets and fairs. Wargrave was a market town and in nearby Waltham St. Lawrence where the A'Bear family also farmed there was already a cattle and sheep fair by the 14th century. These fairs were not like anything now in existence. It was at the fair that people could see acrobats and jugglers, stalls of local fruit and vegetables, food and drink in plenty, buy a few luxuries from other realms at black market prices, take part in archery contests or wrestling bouts, as well as the more mundane buying and selling of horses, cattle, pigs, and sheep. It was here, too, that quack doctors sold their charms and herbs against all known and many unknown illnesses. They would bleed you with a leech for a penny or sell you "waters from the River Jordan thrice blessed" as a general tonic. At that time a map of the world would show Jerusalem at its centre with only vague outlines of Europe and North Africa, and sea all around it on a flat surface bounded by the edge of the world.

Such then was the hard life of a villager at the time when John Atte Bere was establishing himself as an independent yeoman sheep farmer in Wargrave. He would have made an adequate living from selling his wool and from the sales of' meat and animals both privately and at market. He would quickly have established himself as a reputable God fearing citizen.

As generation succeeded generation life would have become easier in some ways but harder in others. There were Inclosure Acts in 1517 and in the 17th and 18th centuries which shared out amongst existing land owners much of the common land. This drove many farmers, cottagers, and labourers away from crop farming, although the loss to crops was a gain for wool production. Farmers everywhere gave up growing crops and turned to sheep so that, at that time, it was said "sheep grow fat but men grow thin”. Some years must have been good and others not so good as the price of wool varied according to supply and demand. Some made fortunes but, although the A'Bear families survived and flourished, they never appear to have been rich. The Church also benefited from wool profits but in the middle ages religious belief changed regularly between the Catholic and Protestant faiths, and this must have been a worrying time even in a country village.

By 1600 when the A'Bears are again mentioned, the world was a different place. Although wool was still the main agricultural interest and locally dug peat was still used for heating, the houses and roads had improved beyond belief. Many new manufacturing activities now took place in Berkshire and these included silk farms and stockings, soaps, paper making, and malt. The local churches were grander and better decorated, with towers and bells in them to summon worshippers to Church or to sound out a warning to the village. Aisles and decorative windows were put in and wooden pews were installed to sit on instead of having to stand up throughout the services. Coaches and carts rumbled along the London to Bath road within a mile of' Wargrave village, bringing Reading within a half hour journey along the turnpike road.Better boats meant that the river could be used to take goods to and from London or Reading. With money more readily available, profits from the land were put back into the land and better houses, thus building up some quite sizeable estates owned by middle class families.

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Researched by Stanley G A' Bear

There are no clues as to how the A'Bears first came to Wargrave. That they were sheep farming there in 1340 there is no doubt. There is no trace of them by name in the Domesday Book as tenants or under tenants.of the Crown, although it is possible that they were then one of Berkshire's 1,827 unnamed Bordani who were cottagers with a little house and some land used for husbandry or even that they were one of the 750 Cotorii who were even smaller cottagers paying rent or giving service in exchange for smaller plots of land.

It is also possible and indeed much more probable that the A'Bears came to Wargrave between 1330 and 1340 either from Somerset or from Surrey. In Somerset Nicholas Atte Bere was alive in 1247 and Robert in 1330, while in Surry John was reported in 1332. Both of these families must have been relatively wealthy to be quoted in Subsidy Rolls. Perhaps on the death of their father, one son took over the local farm while a second son moved to Wargrave and bought land there from the Lord of the Manor with his share of the inheritance. It is unlikely that we will ever know. From before 1340 for nearly six hundred years the family apparently lived as middle class farmers in the same district, their standards neither rising nor falling very much. All their profits were probably ploughed back into the land and local property, and often farms were bought, sold, inherited, or left as legacies.

The History of Wargrave was written in 1929 by a local man, Mr E B Pope, as a private publication of one hundred copies sent only to subscribers. This book cannot now be obtained but a copy can still be seen at Wargrave Public Library on application to the Chief Librarian. The following are quotations from that book as far as they refer to the A'Bear family and they are quoted as written.

On page 22. There is an ancient deed dated 1340 and among its subscribers are John Atte Bere and Robert Wepestrode (probably ancestors of the Gibstrude local family). This deed is a Nonarum Inquisitonum and was sworn before the Pryor sf Walyngford and his Fellows. It states upon oath that the ninth part of the fleeces of lambs of the aforesaid Vill Wargrave) granted to the Lord the King are worth what they are valued at to the Church of Wargrave, that is to say eighteen marks (12), and they do not exceed this because a great part of the land of the parishioners of the said Vill lies uncultivated: in consequence of the pauperisation of the aforesaid parishioners and because there are great expenses in the cutting and collecting of sheaves and because the lands and woods and meadows and pastures belong to the Vicar and also the small tithes which are to be offered and the Mortuary fees and the tithes of hay of the said Vill amount per annum to ten pounds which profits indeed run over the extent of the said Church.

On page 30. As it should be in a graveyard, the history of the parish is there to be read. A vault where lie buried five generations of village doctors of the same name, one that contains father and son who followed one another as Vicars, and vaults and tombs of innumerable A'Bears, Piggotts, Ffordes, etc. (N.B. Not many of the inscriptions on these tombs are now legible.)

On page 41. The outstanding entry in the burial register is almost at its start when, in the middle of summer 1544, nine members of the A'Bear family were buried in a space of three weeks. From the fact that no other deaths are recorded in the same month it does not look as though plague or smallpox was the trouble as the rest of the village aze hardly likely to have all escaped.

On pages 49 to 51. None of the families of Wargrave seem old compared with the yeomen, the farmers, and the agricultural workers -the A'Bears, Cotterells, Ffordes, Figgotts, Silver, Guy, Lewendon, Gibstrude, Langford, Newberry, and the Headingtons. The A'Bear, Cotterell, Newberry and Gibstrude families were all landowners in very early days but A'Bear is the first name one can find in old deeds and they have, in this year of grace 1929, at last left Wargrave without one of their name after six hundred years. Their head was a prominent Wargrave man in 1340.

For hundreds of years A'Bears were the main fillers of the parish registers and not content with this they signed them as Church Wardens for centuries. It is about forty years since they sold their Wargrave home and acres. They have no recorded pedigree and they are far too numerous to correctly trace from parish registers as there seem often to have been seven or eight Johns alive at the same time.

One of their many well preserved deeds is itself a good first start for a pedigree as it recites that it is between Thomas A'Beare of Harehatch Wargrave yeoman, sonne and heire of his father Thomas A'Beare late of Harehatch yeoman deceased who was one of the Sons of John A'Beare late of Harehatch yeoman deceased, and John A'Bear now of Harehatch yeoman, eldest son of his father John A'Bear late of Harehatch yeoman deceased who was sonne and heire of the said John A'Beare's son deceased and eldest brother of the said Thomas A'Beare deceased of the one part and Richard Blyth of Sonning gent of the other part.

There is also an indenture made on the seventh day of November in the sixteenth year ( or 28th year according to The A'Bear Family of Wargrave) of our soveraigne Lord Charles the Second (1676) between Thomas A' Beare of Wargrave yeoman and Richard Blyth of Sonning gent. The former in consideration of 250 conveys Long Withall Coppinscraft, Old Orchard Kindfield, and The Holt.The land was bounded by the property of Ralph Newberry gentleman and Thomas Kent and the lease at a rent of one peppercorn expires in 2176. The parties contracted that the purchase money should be paid without deduction of taxes or imposition, or Royal Aide Subsidy. In 1680 Thomas Blyth of Englefield yeoman conveyed this property to John Sadler of Shinfield yeoman.

It is interesting that Thomas and his family spelt their name A'beare while John spelt his name A'Bear. The change appears to have taken place around 1600 probably to avoid confusion when John A'Beare had two sons, one calling himself John A’Bear and the other Thomas A’Beare.. Thomas's line of the family seems to have died out with the death of Thomas junior probably about 1700.

In 1618 John A'Bear, already living at the Hill, gave a tenor bell to the church of Waltham St. Lawrence of which he bell was later used in the schoolhouse and was not one of those destroyed when Wargrave Church was burnt down in 1914. The Bells at St Mary's, Wargrave & Waltham St Lawrence & The Bell Inn

I rather wonder if The Hill was the property known as Linden Hill and which until a hundred years ago was Bear Hill. In their last days in Wargrave and for at least two hundred years previously The Hill was the A'Bear home and that property and Worley Farm their estate, but it is more than likely that all the Bear named properties in this area have some early connection with the family.

There is a deed executed in the first year of the raigne of our soveraigne Lady Anne (1702) in which John A'Bear of the parish of Wargrave yeoman of The Hill of the one part and John A'Bear junior of the other part and Edward Simeon of Wargrave schoolmaster (his son in law), in which John A'Bear conveys north and south Kindfield, Pawfield and Oldfield at Harehatch, and property at Mumberry Hill (School Hill) to the other parties to the deed. Simeon acquired various other property including Gibstroud, Cockpole, Penny, and Worley Farms so that, when in 1728 his will was proved by John A'Bear, he had advanced from Edward Simeon schoolmaster to Edward Simeon gentleman. Gibstroud Farm was originally part of Stroud's Farm at Park Place the property of the Strouds, the Ffordes, and at some time the A'Bear family.

Lyson's Magna Brittanica speaks of various previous owners of Bear Place including A'Bears, but offers no reason for this suggestion. The Cotterells like the A'Bears farrned Oxfordshire as well as Berkshire land and presumably in the 16th and 17th century had a home in Wargrave as they appear constantly in the parish register. A deed of the A'Bear family I have seen is one in which the other party is Richard Cotterell yeoman of Sheeplake in the county of Oxfordshire.

On pages 55 to 56. Deeds and documents in the possession of Mr. John A'Bear include - 4th July 1588, when Edward Cottyford conveyed Woodfynings to Sir Richard Lovelace.It was witnessed by William Fforde and Henry Newberry. 10th September 1592 when, in a little deed in a bad state and written in Latin, Woodfynings is again referred to in connection with Cotteyford and Newberry. Later there is an admission to this property by the Nevill's steward John Henry in favour of de witto Doyley (The Widow Doyley) who appears in many deeds in the A'Bear family papers of about 1590 to 1595 as do also her daughter and son in law the Biddulphs.

In 1705 John A'Bear senior and John A'Bear junior settle Woodfynings on the prospective wife of the younger, a maid servant at Culham Court, and the trustee of the settlement is Stevens of Culham Court.

The will of Andrew Mead a weaver of Wargrave made on 6th August 1656 left "all my linen with my feather bed, my flock bedd, ruggs, bolstows and pillows, and bedstead I usually lye on”. To his executors he left twelve pence to buy gloves and the residue was left to his brother, a weaver of Henley. In 1717 the will of Richard Cotterell of Sheeplake was proved by John A'Bear in Doctors commons before Magistro Edmundo Pope. In 1723 Francis and John Piggott yeomen conveyed Langham and Upcroft to Edward Simeon for 250.

In 1704 Edward Simeon applied for admission to Reddington plot. In 1727 and again in 1760 his son in law Robert Sayer again pleaded for admission, while in 1770 Jane Rockhall, Simeon's grand daughter, applied to the Court in the same cause.

In 1795 an inventory of the assets of John A'Bear stated that he. owned 230 acres and, with his property at The Hill, it mentions " brewery utensils of every description and two dozen sheets." This inventory followed a lot of rather interesting correspondence between the owner of a home for mental patients in Melina Place, St. Johns Wood, where John A'Bear was, and his relatives at Greys Green, a Mr. Johnson of :Hennerton, and a Mr. Wakefield of Hare Hatch Cottage. It would appear that the fields on the Hare Hatch side of Tags Lane had long been rented by but never owned by the A' Bear family and, to the old gentleman’s disgust, they were thrown on the market and were bought by Mr. Johnson, Mr. Wakefield and a Miss Fremont. John A'Bear finally had delusions, thought he had lost his property, and prayed his nurses for a gun that he might scatter his brains. Going from bad to worse he soon died, but in the meanwhile the conveyances to Johnson and the others could not be completed and the letters they wrote to Mr. A'Bear's helpless relatives testify that they had all become rather uneasy about their purchase.

On page 57. The Commissioner for the Wargrave Inclosure Award of 1818 was John Davis of Stoke Row, Oxfordshire. The other signatories were Harry Fonnereau of Linden Hill, J. Stanford Girdler of Little Scarletts, Charles Hayes, Sarah Hill of Wargrave Hill, Penny Young of Hare Hatch House, Mr. Thompson, Mary Jones, and John A'Bear of “The Hill”. Under this and other Inclosure Acts much common land was enclosed and parcels of it given to land owners as compensation for common rights and for ground given for road widening schemes.

On page 113.Ouseleys or Ouselease property belonged to John A'Bear in 1690 and he left it by will in 1709 to his daughter and her husband William Silver, and in that family it remained for more than two hundred years. Miss Elizabeth Silver, the last of this branch, left the house to her nephew William Silver Darter, an Alderman of Reading.

On page 111. The Hill Wargrave is somewhat difficult of description. It is, without, a charming house of mellow bricks mainly hidden with creepers, partly Georgian, partly Queen Anne, and partly all sorts of periods. It is just the charming outcome one would expect in the house of a long line of prosperous yeomen, for The Hill was for generations the home of the A'Bear family and for this reason it is the one house more than any other in Wargrave where the interest is more in the owners than in the house. The Hill was tenanted for many years after the A’Bears left by a Mr Shepherd, and a few years back it was purchased by Mr Bernard Crisp who sold it to the present (1929) owner and occupier Mr A H Becker.

Such then are the comments of Mr Pope in his book. Interesting though these extracts may be, when they are put into chronological order they give no information at all about the family between 1340 and 1616 except for the one item recording nine deaths and various deeds in which they may have been concerned but were not named.

John A'Bear was a landowner and a Churchwarden at Waltham St Lawrence in 1618 and it is his grandson, another John who died in 1709,who is the ancestor of all known A'Bears at the present time. It was John's only son, another John who died in 1743, who married twice. By his first marriage his only surviving son headed one side of the family at Wargrave. When he married again after his first wife died he had two girls and three boys. It was his fourth child Joshua.who was head of the other side of the family, the other two boys having no family. Joshua was the great great great great grandfather of Michael, Dennis, Geoffrey and myself.

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Observations by Stanley G A' Bear

In his book on the History of Wargrave, Mr Pope says that the Coat of Arms was copied by him from an old parchment in the possession of Mr A'Bear in 1929 and it is reproduced in colour in his book. No other trace of these or any other arms to the A'Bear family can be found in any book of reference and their authenticity must always be in doubt. The only other place in which it can be seen is on a map of Wargrave dated 1790 which John A'Bear helped to prepare and on which the Coat of Arms shows in a margin. Picture

The family legend is that they were allowed to use the five ostrich feathers on their crest because one of their ancestors was a Standard Bearer at the Battle of Crecy in 1346. It is interesting to record that Jean Froissart who was alive at the time of Crecy, reported in his Chronicles that the sixteen year old Black Prince was knocked off his horse during the battle, whereupon his standard bearer Richard de Beaumont covered him with the banner of Wales and fought off his assailants with others until the Prince was able to regain his feet and remount. It would be nice to think that amongst “the others” was an Atte Bere and that he was granted his Coat of Arms as a reward. It is always possible that the A'Bear who won the right to a Coat of Arms was killed in a subsequent battle and died without leaving any family. In this case his farming brothers would no doubt hesitate about using the honour to their own ends, and the Coat of Arms, although genuine, may possibly never have been fully registered.

There is no special significance in the crown used in the Crest. This is similar to a Duke’s coronet except that dukes have five strawberry leaves while ordinary crest coronets like that shown have only three leaves denoting no special rank and being merely heraldic emblems like the five feathers. No motto has ever been quoted.

An interesting point is that the birds appear to be martlets. These are a sort of heraldic swallow, house martin, or swift. In nature these birds are nearly always flying, but in heraldry they are usually shown standing. In medieval times it was thought that such birds were always on the wing because they had no legs and, consequently, they are shown on Coats of Arms standing legless on two feathered stumps.



Base colour is Azure (blue)

Two bendlets (diagonal stripes), the upper in argent (silver) and or (gold), the lower in argent (silver), both edged in sable (black).

Six martlets in argent (silver) placed as to one and two in sinister chief (top right side) and three in dexter base (bottom left side).


Five ostrich plumes in argent (silver) surmounting a crest coronet in or (gold).


 Martlets are quite common on shields. They signify, according to Bado Aurea in his Tractatus de Armes of 1394 that "the bearer acquired the arms by his ability bravery and prowess but that he had little wealth or means of subsistence, for the Martlet is painted in arms without feet like someone without any foundations". Such birds are symbolic too in the Coats of Arms for fourth sons, because they would inherit little from their father's estate and were therefore deemed to be men of little substance.

It is now extremely unlikely that the source of the arms will ever be known, but its existence is an interesting reflection of history in the middle ages. In view of its documentation and reproduction elsewhere there can be no harm in the present day family using the Coat of Arms if they wish to, but if they were challenged it would be difficult to prove their claims.

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Observations by Stanley G A' Bear

During 1985 a handbook entitled “The A'Bear family of Wargrave" was written by Stephen Leach of Bopeep Farm, Adderbury, Banbury in oollaboration with Michael Ford of 11 Lymington Avenue, Yateley, Camberley and published by The Wargrave Local History Sooiety.I understand that much of the research was done in 1983 and that nothing significant has arisen since. The latter part of this booklet (pages 37 to 84) deals with documents concerning the family and these may prove helpful in projecting the family tree back into the sixteenth century.

The first part of the book (pages 4 to 36) deals with a possible link between the A’Bear family and the Delabere family. The author bases his contention on the basis that both families had a common ancestry ( page 26 ) on

1.      the shared coat of arms

2.      the shared legend of Crecy

3.      both families having connections with Berkshire

4.      documentary proof that the Attebere, A’Bear, and Delabere names were used indiscriminantly.

Dealing first with the shared coat of arms, the author says (page 5):

“ …the Delabere section of their own coat of arms is identical to the existent A' Bear coat of arms and the other sections of the Delabere crest came into existence at later stages in their history".

Here it must be borne in mind that there is no such thing as an "A'Bear" coat of arms. At best all we have is an old undated parchment with a diagram of a coat of arms on it which was also reproduced in the margin of a Wargrave map dated 1790. In no way could this document, in isolation, prove anything more than an A'Bear interest in the Delabere family crest.

The earliest recorded Attebere was Nicholas who is mentioned in the subsidy rolls for Somerset in 1247. The earliest recorded Delabere is Sir Richard who is alleged to have come into England with William the Conqueror. As a Knight he wou;d already have a coat of arms, presumably similar to that on the A'Bear parchment, and this is confirmed by the St. Georges’ Roll of 1285 as being “Azure, a bend argent between two cottises or, and six martlets”. (Page 27) i.e. Blue with a wide diagonal silver stripe between two narrower gold stripes and six birds on the wing.

John Delabere who was Bishop of St. Davids in Wales from 1447 to 1460 (page 26) had according to the General Armory by Sir Bernard Burke of 1884 (page 274) an identical ooat of arms but, as a Bishop, he would have been celibate and on his death the crest would pass to his next of kin. Other Delaberes married and, when marrying into nobility, they often honoured their wives by incorporating part of wife's family crest into their own. Indeed the current Delabere coat of arms is divided into six parts (page 6).

Parts 1 and 6 represent the Delabere content of a blue bacground with a wide silver stripe between two narrower stripes and six martlets.

Part 2 is the Kynardsley design of a rampant lion and 7 silver crosses on a blue ground.

Part 3 is from the Chabnor family crest and is red with 3 black martlets.

Part4 from the Barre family is red with 3 bars in silver and black.

Part 5 is from the Pembridge family crest and has a red stripe with 6 horizontal stripes in gold and blue.

Dealing now with the shared legend of bravery at the battle of Crecy in 1346. Both families have legends of bravery at Crecy (pages 7 and 8) but without doubt it was Sir Richard Delabere who took the honours. Proof of this lies mainly in the gifts he received from the King and the Black Prince in the years immediately after the battle. How else could he have got grants of land (page 8), been made the prince's Bachelor (page 9), or constable and keeper of the Prince's Cast1e and Lordship of Emlyn (pages 9 to17). How else could he have received from the Prince a gold buckle (page 14), four gold rings with diamonds (page 14}and a tun, which was 252 gallons, of wine (page 14). He was already Sir Richard, a Knight of the Realm, so the Black Prince gave him the additional honour of adding the Prince of Wales' five white ostrich feathers to his crest (page 7) and possibly the coronet as well (page 27). Certainly the honours given to Sir Richard Delabere add little to the case of linking them with the A'Bear family.

It is certainly true that both families had connections with Berkshire, although the Delaberes were better known in Herefordshire and Shropshire where they held extensive estates, and in South Wales where Sir Richard worked in the 14th century.

The John Delabere who became Bishop of St.David's owned land less than twenty miles from Wargrave (page 26) and it was John Delabere who helped finance the building of a bridge over the Thames between Oxfordshire and Berkshire (page 26). Richard Delabere had land in 1317 at Shiplake just across the river from Wargrave (page 25). This Richard Delabere was a sheriff of Berkshire in 1318 and the Member of Parliament for Oxfordshire in 1316 and 1325 (page 25).

A John Delabere was Principal of Gloucester Hall, Oxford, from 1581 to 1593 (Victoria History of Oxfcrdshire volume 3 page 301) and much more recently the Manor House of Pangbourne in Berkshire was bought in 1883 by Reginald Delabere from Mrs Beedon, and he sold it in 1904 to George Booth Tate (Victoria History of Berkshire volume 3, page 304).

These facts certainly support, but do not prove, that the Delaberes and the Atteberes of the 14th century were related and it may well be that even they were not sure, and that the A' Bear coat of arms was supplied and family links were considered by John or Richard Delabere when they met and discussed life with farmer John Attebere.

The author states (page 25) that "the names Attebere, A'Bear and Delabere ware used indiscriminately at the whim of the scribe". This is unfortunately true, and it is the main reason why there may be family links. It seems to depend on whether the scribe is a scholar with a knowledge of latin and French, or whether he is an educated Englishman who is able to read and write.

Examples are numerous and include John de la Bere of Weregrave in 1318 (page 23), John de la Bere of Wergrave in 1341 (page 23) a year after John Attebere signed as a juror of Wargrave and added his name to the 1340 Nonarum Inquisitionum (page 3).

In 1325 John Atte Bere witnessed a grant of land (page 24) while in 1317 Riohard de Bere is mentioned (page 25). Even as late as 1721 Francis and Ann Delabere of Wargrave are mentioned (page 78) but they were definitely born and baptised into the A’Bear family. Even A'Bear is spelt in at least four different ways and it is possible that each branch of the family had its own spelling to differentiate between fathers, sons and brothers.

However, I do not agree with the contention (page 2) that "the outside dates for the crucial split occurring between the two families is 1346 and 1569". There were Delaberes in 1066 and recorded Atteberes only from 1285 or 1325 in Wargrave.

Reaney in his Dictionary of Surnames groups A'Bears, Atteberes and Delaberes all under one heading, as having a common origin based on the Old English "Beara". But the Delaberes are supposed to have come over with William the Conqueror (page 6). So perhaps Reaney is wrong and the Atteberes were originally Delaberes until they split.The author recognises this probability (page 36) by stating that "the earliest A’Bears were Delaberes".

There is also an endeavour (page 35) to link Thomas A. Barre with the family, but this is most unlikely for a section of the Delabere coat of arms indicates that a Delabere married a Barre and adopted part of their crest of a red shield with three alternate silver and black bars (General Armory page 52).

Personally I think that if there ever was a common heritage it is more likely that it arose either around 1240 if the Atteberes split from the Delaberes or around 1064 if the Delaberes split from the Atteberes.

There must be dozens of theories which fit the facts, but let us go into the realms of fantasy and consider two of them. Suppose the split occurred around 1240 AD. I can imagine the trouble within the Delabere family when Sir Richard sired an illegitimate son Alan Plucknet (page 34) obviously from an important local family, for Alan later became a notable favourite of King Edward I and received many royal gifts between 1283 and 1285. At that time Sir Richard already had two legitimate children, Riohard the elder and John the younger. It was poor John who was most upset by his father's conduct, so much so that he decided he would leave home. John had always been the odd one out and often he wondered if he, too, was an illegitimate son for he received scant sympathy or help from his father and knew nothing of his mother who died when John was born.

So John, probably no more then a teenager at the time left home and went to his Uncle Nicholas who was a yeoman farmer of some repute in Somerset. Uncle Nicholas sympathised with John's sentiments and had never agreed with his brother, so they both decided to change their names from Nicholas and John Delabere to Nicholas and John Attebere.

John stayed with his uncle until 1255 AD. He was, by then, a married man with a family. So when Uncle Nicholas died he decided to sell the Somerset farm and exercise his rights as the son of a Knight and nephew of a yeoman to move with his wife and family to Wargrave in Berkehire where the pastures were much more suited to John's love of keeping sheep for their wool and meat.

So John Attebere came to Wargrave separated for ever from the Delabere family. Or perhaps he did meet John Delabere in the mid 15th oentury when the bridge at Dorchester was opened (page 26) and they discussed the Delabere coat of arms he would use on his forthcoming appointment to the See of St. David's.

Or let us go further into the realms of fantasy and suppose the split was in pre-conquest days.

Suppose a John Attebere, born about 1000 AD, had died about 1050 AD leaving four sons. It was usual for the two oldest sons to inherit from their father, the third would often go into the Chucch, and the fourth would usual1y join the Army. This fourth son would have been born in about 1025 and would have joined the forces of Edward the Confessor soon after the King's coronation in 1042. This Richard Attebere was a brave fighter as well as an educated man, able to speak Latin and French, and he quickly rose through the ranks to become an Army Commander in about 1060 AD.

In 1064 Edward the Confessor sent his wife' s brother Harold Godwinson to Normandy as an ambassador charged with seeing Duke William of Normandy to tell that him that Edward, who was the younger son of Ethelred and who had been educated in Normandy, intended to keep the promise he had made in 1051 when William came to see him. That promise implied that William would become King of England when Edward died by virtue of being Edward's first cousin through Edward the Confessor’s mother who was the sister of a Norman Duke, and that the succession would not pass to his wife's brother Harold.

After a hazardous journey, Harold and his escort led by Army Commander Richard Attebere were received by William most cordially, but probably Harold forgot to mention Edward’s message or, if he did say anything, it only confirmed what William already took for granted. A month or two after arriving in Normandy, Harold was invited to accompany William on a military campaign against the men of Brittany and there, always ready for a battle, Harold and his Army Commander Richard Attebere distinguished themselves. For their bravery and help they were rewarded by being knighted by William Sir Harold Godwinson and Sir Richard Attebere. So Sir Richard chose his coat of arms. Blue for the sky on the battle day, a wide stripe to represent the bandage round his head where an enemy spear had cut him, two narrower stripes to represent the bandages round his hand and arm now healing nicely, six birds in flight to represent the six men he personally had killed that day, and making them martlets because he was the fourth son of his father and fourth sons always had martlets on their shield.

What Harold chose to forget but Richard remembered was that, by accepting a knighthood from William, they both owed the Duke loyalty, fidelity and obedience. He should, therefore, have promoted William's claim to the English throne in accordance with his brother in law' s wishes. But when Edward the Confessor died on 5th January 1066, Harold, through his father Earl Godwin who was also father of the Queen, took the throne for himself and was accepted by the Noblemen of England as their King.

Richard, however, remembered his oath of allegiance and loyalty to William so, when Harold was crowned King of England, Richard went to France and joined forces with William, helping him with plans for the conquest. Being now allied to the French, he changed his name from Attebere to Delabere in order to disguise his English identity and to be more acceptable to the French soldiers he now commanded.

Well they both make good stories and are historically correct, only the Attebere element being invented. Many other theories could be suggested to cover the facts and link the Delabere and Attebere families, but just an many could be thought of which would indicate no link at all. It is unlikely that we will ever know the answer.

Reverting to the booklet itself there are two obvious contradictions. The author says (page 4) "Nor have I ever discovered mention of Bere of Oakingham”, yet in the 1884 General Armory (page73) he is mentioned specifically as having a silver coloured shield with a black bear and a golden sheaf of corn with a black bird on it. An alternative crest sometimes used included a sitting tiger in blue maned and tufted in gold. If Bere of Oakingham was a relative one would expect more similarity in the crests, but none exists. The author also says (page 4) “…nor do I know the origin of the place name Billingbear", yet he himself gives details of the village later in the book (pages 21 and 22). The Oxford Book of Place Names says it is recorded as Le Pyllingber in 1238 and as Pillingber in 1240, and that its origin is most likely to be from the Old English Pillingar meaning the people from Pilling. The village was created in a clearing of Windsor Forest and this is confirmed in John Walker's Universal Gazeteer of 1795, while the Victoria History of Berkshire (volume 2 page 179) indicated that Billingbear was adjacent to what is now Waltham St. Lawrence only four miles from Wargrave.

So where does this leave us?

1. There is no doubt that the pre 15th century Delabere coat of arms was the same as that found in the A'Bear papers with no indication as to how it got there.

2. There seems little doubt that the hero at Crecy, if he existed, was a Delabere.

3. There is just about a 50/50 chance that the Delabere and A'Bear families were from the same original stock, evidence being just about evenly divided.

4. There is nothing anywhere to show when, why, or how the split between the two families occurred, nor is itlikely that any new evidence will now arise.

Mr Leach still hopes to receive further details at a later date from Mr M Oswald-Jones, who is researching the family history on behalf of Sir Cameron Delabere who now lives in Geneva.

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